Annie Bannerjee decries the deaths of detainees in ICE custody, as well as inadequate medical practices leading to negligent care of detainees.
“I hate the term ‘gulag’ when applied to American systems. It makes me wince just thinking about it,” asserts Houston area immigration lawyer, Bannerjee. While she considers Houston-area ICE-run facilities as being “reasonably adequate” in most cases, she couldn’t help voicing her opinion about some of the abuses being documented and discussed. Nina Bernstein’s riveting and provocative article entitled Immigrant Detainee Dies, and a Life is Buried Too, is grist for Banerjee’s mill. The article includes the latest list of deaths published by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) dated February 7, 2009, which notes 90 deaths of immigrants in custody since October 7, 2003. Bernstein’s article also confirms the death of Ahmad Tanveer, 43, a Pakistani national who died on September 9, 2005, in the Monmouth County Correctional Institute in Freehold, New Jersey, and the failure of ICE to be held accountable for the deaths of immigrant detainees in the labyrinth of detention facilities, which includes an underbelly of state and county jails. “People get lost in those places,” says Banerjee, “They get swallowed up.” Banerjee introduces another case of relevance, Mr. Hiului Ng, a Chinese national who technically succumbed to cancer at the Providence-based Rhode Island hospital’s sprawling complex in August 2008 while still incarcerated at the Donald Wyatt Detention Facility in nearby Central Falls, RI. “By the time authorities transported Mr. Ng to the hospital in Providence, it was far too late to save him,” Banerjee says. An investigation released about the circumstances of Ng’s demise substantiates Banerjee’s opinion. The report found that Mr. Ng was denied access to counsel and appropriate medical care, was subject to excessive force and verbal abuse, and that reports were tampered with to conceal relevant facts. “At least in this case, and probably in many others, abuse was tolerated and accountability was nowhere to be found,” says Banerjee. Banerjee, like KC Walker writing on the AILA Leadership Blog on April 7, 2009, believes that accountability begins with the enforcement of standards at ICE. “Notification of transfer should never be the responsibility of the detainee,” asserts Banerjee, as she made reference to Detainee Transfer Notification, one of the ICE’s favorite sticking points made in justification of some of their worst scenarios. “If nobody knows where a detainee is in the system, they can be at the mercy of ICE,” Banerjee concludes.